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EDITORIAL: Supporting St. Albertans

The generosity of St. Albertans shone this week as residents rallied together to support the food bank.

The generosity of St. Albertans shone this week as residents rallied together to support the food bank.

As COVID-19 continues to force a shutdown of many businesses and livelihoods in Alberta, Canada and across the world, the need for services such as the food bank rises. Last week, the local group T8N100Men put out a challenge for challenging times: if residents contributed a combined $30,000, the group would match that.

Donations poured in. The tally's up past $70,000 now and shooting for $100,000 – a staggering amount that will change many lives for the better.

If drastic times call for drastic measures, St. Albertans are responding in the most drastic way possible – by donating tens of thousands of dollars to help their fellow residents. T8N100Men isn't the only group to take up the good cause, however. Real estate brokers across the city are running their own fundraisers and community groups are chipping in to help other local nonprofits such as Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF).

The food bank's hamper program skyrocketed from an average of 280 hampers to 420 hampers in March, and that may increase further this month. SAIF saw double the amount of calls in March than in January from people facing abuse in their St. Albert homes. These dollars have rarely been needed as much as they are needed today.

Major task ahead

St. Albert is already looking toward its pandemic recovery, but financial projections on the impact of COVID-19 released Monday are daunting.

The pandemic could hit the city to the tune of $4.6 to $6 million, depending on when provincial lockdown measures start to lift. The city has already begun to respond to that by issuing temporary layoffs to non-permanent staff, instituting a wage freeze, deferring capital projects and reducing transit service levels.

Although city officials say St. Albert is in a good financial position to ride out the economic downturn, councillors have a major task ahead of them to get St. Albert on the road to recovery.

They've begun that journey already by delaying millions of dollars worth of capital projects and creating a task force to oversee the city's recovery, one goal of which is to get our business community to a thriving state. These are the first steps of many that will no doubt be necessary in the coming days. Premier Jason Kenney says he expects Alberta's unemployment rate to surpass 25 per cent, a figure that may take our business sector a long time to rebound from.

Alberta's municipalities will undoubtedly face long-term fiscal challenges. The pandemic and rock-bottom oil prices are cause for serious concern. The Alberta government will be in dire financial straits for a great period of time. Municipalities will likely not be able to count on funding levels they once enjoyed.

Our councillors face a task few if any councils before them have had to take on. It is an unprecedented task that will require leadership, deep thought and creative solutions to save money.